Equality and Merit. Through Experiments to Normative Justice

  • 1 Ethik Zentrum, Universität Zürich,, Zürich, Switzerland


When we want to justify claims against one another, we discover that conceptual thought alone is not sufficient to legitimize property and income in the relative and proper proportions among members of a productive group. Instead, the basis for justification should also be seen in motivational states, validated less by rational thought than by an effective behaviour. To circumnavigate otherwise dangerously utopian claims to justice, the social sciences, and especially behavioural economics, are the most reliable basis for normative distributive justice. This article builds on recent findings of experiments, first of all in order to give proof of the extent to which a general behavioural tendency towards equality is widespread among people, and second of all in order to highlight ‘desert’ and ‘need’ as the crucial criteria of just distribution, which will then sum up to justified inequality in the economic sphere.

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The Journal is devoted to the fundamental issues of empirical and normative social theory, and is directed at social scientists and social philosophers who combine commitment to political and moral enlightenment with argumentative rigour and conceptual clarity. Published articles develop social theorizing in connection with analytical philosophy and philosophy of science.